x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

New Volkswagen Beetle's nod to classic design still packs in the charm

Road Test The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle was everything Kyle Fortune expected: simple without being crude, compact without being cramped, and slow. No provisos on the latter; it's exactly that. Slow.

New Volkswagen BeetleNew Volkswagen Beetle, coming 2012    Credit: NewsPress
New Volkswagen BeetleNew Volkswagen Beetle, coming 2012 Credit: NewsPress

Basically I was a good kid. Rarely did my folks have any reason for concern, but I did play hookey from school twice: once to buy tickets for a concert and the other to go buy a magazine I'd overheard a classmate talking about.

Not that kind of magazine - a car one. It was 1987, I was 13, and three weeks' worth of pocket money bought me the first issue of VolksWorld. Beetles quickly became my world. A schoolmate's brother's early banana yellow, stripped and lowered "Cal-look" example was just about the coolest car in my world.

Despite my childhood obsession, I never bought one; indeed, I hadn't even driven one until today. It's everything I expected: simple without being crude, compact without being cramped, and slow. No provisos on the latter; it's exactly that. Slow. But there's no denying it's packed with charm. Volkswagen's classic department has dusted off a few old smokers to exhibit the bloodline at the launch of the 2012 model. There are few traces of the outgoing version here. Volkswagen is evidently trying to forget the somewhat cartoonish pastiche Beetle that arrived in 1998.

It's a wise move because despite respectable - if not spectacular - sales, the outgoing Beetle never really caught on. It was too sweet for all but the obsessed. Even I, with a residual fascination with all things Beetle, found it a bit lacking in substance. The new Beetle aims to change that, with Volkswagen's people incessantly referring to it as more masculine than before.

That's undeniable, but it's unlikely to cause a flood of blokes into Volkswagen's showrooms. Lower, longer and wider than before, the Beetle has lost its overtly cutesy lines and does assert some of that much-talked-about masculinity. It could only be a Beetle, too: the arching roofline and pronounced curves over the wheels recreate the iconic shape very smartly indeed.

The detailing is neat as well, with protruding lower sills aping the running boards of the original, the chrome-rimmed round headlamps (featuring LED technology, naturally) and bonnet line reminiscent of the later versions of the rear-engined, air-cooled original. The spoiler on Sport models looks strange, but otherwise it's all rather nicely executed.

That's true of the interior, too, which plunders the Beetle's rich past and brings back body-coloured dashboard insets and a useful top-hinged glove box with a delightful push and pull handle. The vase for flowers is gone (not masculine enough, it seems). The materials on all the surfaces are tactile and look high quality, but Volkswagen has scrimped on some of the plastics on the out-of reach, out-of-eye-line areas. The overall effect, though, is positive.

It's not just smart inside, but more practical. The rear seats remain tricky to access and aren't hugely accommodating, but they're handy for occasional use.

More important are the changes to the boot. Next to hopeless on the outgoing Beetle, the luggage compartment is only 40 litres smaller than that of Volkswagen's own Golf.

That comparison is apt, too, since underneath the Beetle's familiar lines it shares a lot with its more sober-suited relative. That's not to say it's identical to drive, though, because the Beetle lacks the dynamic polish of the Golf. The suspension and steering just don't feel as sophisticated. The Beetle's ride is firm and sometimes harsh rather than taut, yet at the same time compliant. The steering, an all-electric system, lacks any real feel at the wheel.

The wider track brings more cornering prowess and stability at speed, but that's missing the point, really. Even in 2.0-litre TSI guise, with 200hp and an entertaining engine, few will buy the Beetle for how it drives. It's a how-it-looks car, which nicely balances retro with modernity inside and out.

Volkswagen promises that it will be decently specified, too, though since it's not quite yet ready to reach the showroom, we'll have to wait for final specifications. Engine choices will ape that of its Golf relative, but without quite the breadth of choice. So expect about four petrol units; a diesel is planned, though probably not for the UAE.

It's unlikely that the new Beetle will have schoolboys missing lessons to buy a magazine to read about it, but then the world has moved on. The Beetle has, too, and it's kept apace in its new guise. Would I buy one? I might, if I liked the idea of a Golf with a bit more character. Sure, the Beetle would bring compromises over its sensible relative but that's part of its appeal. Sensible is boring and that's not something you could ever accuse the new Beetle of. Is it more masculine? Sure, but everyone is still going to think you've borrowed the car off your wife or girlfriend. It's just that kind of car. And really, there's nothing at all wrong with that.

VW Middle East has yet to announce when the new Beetle will reach the UAE; final prices have also not been set.